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By Luke Nichols/Daily Sun sports editor 

Meridian's Erin Johnson passes the ball against Nebraska City Lourdes in the D1-1 District Championship Friday night at Crete High School.

Gage County Board moving forward with Buss Stop environmental review

The Gage County Board of Supervisors approved hiring a firm to perform an environmental study at the recently-acquired future home of the Gage County Sheriff’s Office storage facility during a meeting on Wednesday morning.

In October, the county board approved the purchase of the Buss Stop filling station at 620 N. Sixth St. in Beatrice. The next step moving forward is to have the first phase of an environmental study performed on the site.

The board unanimously approved hiring Terracon Consultants of Omaha to perform the study in support of acquisition of the Buss Stop. The study will include a search for possible hazardous substances or petroleum products.

The environmental study will cost the county a flat fee of $2,300, said County Attorney Roger Harris.

“We're doing it a little early,” Harris said. “I think our closing date is right after the first of the year. This gives us an opportunity if there was anything found, we'd still have time to do a phase two if we needed to.”

Before approving the contract, board member Gary Lytle wanted to clarify a few things.

Lytle said he’d received a phone message questioning the purchase of the property and the possibility of leaking gas tanks below it.

Underground tanks, Lytle said, have a leak control system connected to them and if there were a leak, there would be an immediate notification. In addition, he said, weekly and monthly printouts from the system also indicate whether or not there are leaks.

“This property over here is set up with that equipment,” he said. “As far as we know, there are no leaking tanks underneath that property.”

Secondly, Lytle said, the property was purchased in order to give Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson and the sheriff’s office more storage room, which has been a problem for the last seven years he’s been on the board.

The new building also alleviates another issue the Sheriff’s Office has, he said. The stairs at the current office don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the prospect of building a ramp or a lift is an expensive one, he said. However, the new building creates office space that’s on the ground floor.

There was one other thing Lytle said needed to be determined.

“This purchase is not to build a jail,” he said. “Yes, it is buying property on the block where the jail is. Sometime down the road, there might be a jail there, a new jail, might be, might not. But this is to alleviate two issues, one being the ADA issue, which was going to cost us quite a bit of money just to put a ramp in or do a lift or whatever. And the other thing is the storage thing, this is not to build a jail at this time.”

Lytle also requested that residents who call members of the Gage County Board of Supervisors leave their name and number so that the board member can call back.

Questions can’t be answered if they don’t have a way to call back, he said, and they look forward to having conversations and getting the word out there on hot topics.

“These are good questions to ask,” he said. “The public doesn't know these answers a lot of times, and it's good to know. It's good to be able to have that conversation.”

The board approved the contract with Terracon for the environmental review unanimously with member Dennis Byers absent.

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Trees for the season

With the Thanksgiving holiday officially behind us, most people will now begin decorating for the upcoming Christmas season. 

The Carnegie building in downtown Beatrice is no exception. 

From now until Dec. 31, the public is invited to the Fantasy of Trees display on the upper level of the building. 

Fantasy of Trees is an opportunity for local organizations to show off their Christmas spirit while it also helps bring holiday joy to the building as a whole. 

This year, the Fantasy of trees showcases trees decorated by NGage, the Chamber of Commerce, Mother-to-Mother Ministry and Burwood Books, Mosaic, BSDC, Images in Hair, Hope Crisis Center, AseraCare and Yesterday's Lady.

The Carnegie building, a former library turned into the current home of Gage County Tourism, the Beatrice Area Chamber of Commerce and NGage economic development group, is also displaying artwork from local youth in the area.

"It's a great way to celebrate Christmas at the Carnegie," said Beatrice Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lora Young. "We invite people in to view, not only the beautiful Christmas trees, but also our beautiful space."

While the Carnegie is typically closed on weekends, it is open for the public Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 

The building will also be open to the public on Saturday, Dec. 2 during and immediately following the annual Lighted Christmas Parade in downtown Beatrice.

The parade is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2. The parade travels down Fifth Street, ending at the Beatrice Public Schools administration building. After the parade, Santa Claus will be available for photos in Charles Park, along with live reindeer, hot chocolate and other activities. 

Sheriff urges against use of deadly force in thefts

“We are not a stand-your-ground state.”

That was the message Gage County Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson wanted to convey at a recent townhall meeting in Barneston, held in response to a recent string of burglaries.

You can defend the safety of yourself or your loved ones, but you can’t shoot someone just for stealing your property, he said during a recap of the Barneston meeting with the Gage County Board of Supervisors.

“There were getting to be some people down there pretty irate over all the criminal activity,” Gustafson told the board. “We'd work a case, get them arrested, they'd get released right away and start the process of stealing again.”

Shooting someone who isn’t posing a threat, even if they are stealing from you, he said, can lead to trouble. You can be sued by someone who is injured or even charged with homicide.

The best solution, he said, is to call the Gage County Sheriff’s Office, even if you think you can just wing the burglar.

“They started asking, 'Well, can we wound them?’” Gustafson said of those in attendance at the Barneston meeting. “’Can we shoot them in the knee?' So, I'm trying to get the point across, you cannot do those things. That's our job, we don't wound, we're trained to shoot to kill people with our weapon.”

As far as getting stolen property back, Gustafson recommended being proactive before there’s a theft. Put your initials on your property, he said, or add a distinctive mark or a spot of paint. If you didn’t report something stolen and can’t prove that a piece of stolen property belongs to you, the sheriff’s department can’t return it to you.

The goal of the meeting was to discuss how crimes get handled at the county level, Gustafson said. How things go through dispatch, how the investigative process works and what happens when the case is handed to the courts, he said.

County Attorney Roger Harris said the process is unfortunately a slow one, but that's how laws are enforced.

Sometimes, Harris said, it might seem like a defendant’s rights are more protected than the victim’s, but there is a resource for crime victims.

The Gage County Victim Assistance Program is for victims of any type of crime, he said, including burglary, robbery, sexual assault and domestic violence. It focuses on the victim’s rights, Harris said.

Board member Gary Lytle said that he’s been around firearms and has hunted since he was a child, and if there’s one thing to remember, it’s that if you point a gun at something, you had better be prepared to kill it. Even when aiming for a kneecap, the shooter could miss and hit the target in the chest instead and kill them, he said.

Even if you’re not shooting at a person, he said, there can still be consequences.

“You might intend to disable a vehicle and it ends up bouncing and killing somebody,” Lytle said. “You've got to keep in mind that it's just not a good idea to draw a gun down on somebody. It just isn't.”

If you’re not in physical danger, don’t draw your weapon, Lytle said. Property can be replaced, but a human life cannot.

Gage County receives USDA grant

A U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant will soon help rural communities in Gage County set priorities for community facility improvements. The project was announced Wednesday by NGage, the county’s economic development corporation.

“Working with University of Nebraska Extension and the Heartland Center for Leadership Development, NGage will facilitate priority-setting sessions with all 13 small towns in the county,” said NGage Executive Director Walker Zulkoski.

The grant, worth approximately $100,000, was awarded to the Heartland Center for Leadership Development.

“The Center is a 30-year-old nonprofit organization that works with community leaders throughout the Great Plains to help them set priorities for community vitality,” noted Milan Wall, co-director of the Heartland Center.

The grant awarded to them will support youth activities as well as the arrangements for and facilitation of the community sessions.

“A unique feature of the project will be engaging students from schools in the region to envision their communities as they would like to see them develop over the next 10 years,” Wall said. “The teenagers will be invited to create three-dimensional models of their towns to share with adults from the county as part of the planning process.”

Initial meetings will begin in December. Zulkoski estimated the entire process could take two or three years to complete.